Ottavino caught the eye of Cardinals' scout Kobe Perez during an exhibition game with the Boston Red Sox in 2006. Perez was impressed by his aggressiveness in going right at the Major League hitters and his calm demeanor. Ottavino struck out the first two Red Sox hitters he faced and then followed by breaking the third's bat.
As a sophomore at Northeastern University, the big right-hander broke the school's single season strikeout record. He followed that up by going 2-2 with a 1.76 ERA Cape Cod League. He really caught scouts' attention during the 2006 season when he held number one-rated Georgia Tech hitless through six innings in his first start of the year. He finished with 12 strikeouts over seven innings. His best start of the year came a month later, when he threw a no-hitter while striking out 14 against the high-powered offense of James Madison.
Ottavino signed for $950,000 and was assigned to the New York Penn League's State College Spikes. In his first professional assignment, he posted an ERA of 3.14 while striking out 26 in 28.2 innings. Command was an issue as he walked 13 batters. The then-20-year-old was sent to Quad Cities to finish out the 2006 season. In the Midwest League, he struck out 38 in 36.2 innings while posting an ERA of 3.44. Control was still an issue, as he walked 19 batters while pitching for the Swing.
In 2007, the Cardinals sent Ottavino to Palm Beach of the Florida State League. The 21-year-old posted 12 wins to go along with a 3.08 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 143.1 innings, ranking him among the Florida State League leaders in most pitching categories. Still, the walk rates were concerning; he continued his trend of a strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost two-to-one.
The 2008 season can described as the "Tale of Two Ottavinos". Before the All-Star break, the 22-year-old posted a record of 1-4 with an ERA of 7.17 in 42.2 innings. Since the break, Ottavino has gone 1-1 with an ERA of three. Pre-break, Texas League hitters were hitting .310 against, .215 since.
The Brooklyn native had continued his trend of posting undesirable walk totals. Before the break, Ottavino walked 28 compared to 35 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. Since, he has walked only 12 compared to 34 strikeouts in 36 innings.
Earlier this season, Ottavino was struggling with an 0-4 record and 8.78 ERA through seven starts when he took a "mental break from baseball". Also, Ottavino made a trip to the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation in early May.
Scouting Report The 22-year-old has a big sturdy frame that he could continue to add bulk to. Ottavino uses his frame to get on top of the ball enabling him to pitch on a downward plane, a plus in getting groundball outs. One of his weaknesses is an inconsistency in staying on top of the ball. When he gets under it, he tends to keep the ball up in the zone. He possesses above-average arm speed but does struggle to keep the same arm slot.
Ottavino uses a drop and drive delivery along a ¾ arm slot to bring his offerings to the hitter. This style of delivery plus a high leg kick add to his deception. He gets good drive toward the plate off his back leg but I do question his ability to stay completely balanced. On his follow-through, he falls off and to the left of the mound.
His four-seam fastball sits at 90-91 MPH but he can definitely dial it up when needed. On the night I watched him, Ottavino hit 95 several times while hitting 96 once. The pitch does run in on left-handers but will straigten out at times. This is usually when he gets hit hard.
Ottavino will show a two-seamer that has some run and sink to it. He has struggled with this pitch along with the pitch-to-contact philosophy of the organization.
His slider has the makings of a plus pitch. Ottavino throws it in the low eighties and it features good tilt. With its late bite, the slider could become a strikeout pitch; he just needs to consistently throw it for strikes.
Ottavino has been quoted as saying that his changeup is much better than it was. So be it, but it still needs a lot of work. I agree he needs it in his arsenal if he is going to continue to start; he will need a weapon against left-handed hitters.
His curveball was very inconsistent on this night. Plus, his arm speed would drastically slow down, tipping off that it was coming.
Ottavino posesses a calm demeanor with a confident air about him. He is aggressive in his approach on the mound, going straight after hitters no matter the match up.
To continue his role as a starter as he goes up the chain, Ottavino will first have to gain control over his reportoire. The walk totals are alarming and have to be cut down for him to advance. Gaining a more consistent arm slot as well as being more balanced should help cure those woes. I also question his follow-through in which he falls to his left off the mound.
Ottavino needs to continue to make strides with his slider including being able to throw it for strikes. With a little more advancement, it could become a very good asset. I know the organization wants him to throw the two-seamer to induce more groundball outs. If he can't find a ‘feel' for this pitch, this too, could inhibit his advancement.
Last, the changeup needs to develop. A starter at the big league level has to have at least a third pitch. He will need the pitch to help keep hitters off balance along with having an option to get left-handers out.
With his aggressiveness, Ottavino has a good chance of starting at the big league level but most likely as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If he can't develop a third at least average offering, then he could definitely become a shut down middle reliever/setup man.
Exclusive video of Ottavino on the mound.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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